The King County Council unanimously passed an ordinance on May 12 to improve outreach and provide services to veterans in the county’s criminal justice system.
Veterans are at greater risk for homelessness and mental illness than those who have not served in the military.
Up to 18 percent of homeless single adults are veterans, according to the Safe Harbors Homeless Management Information System, which tracks homeless people accessing services in the region.
King County Jail reports that only 2 percent of inmates are veterans, but King County councilmembers believe this may be an undercount.
That’s why Councilmember Reagan Dunn proposed an ordinance directing County Executive Dow Constantine to research veterans in the King County Jail and make recommendations for how to better serve them.
Dunn proposed the legislation to help veterans who may be suffering from post traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injuries, particularly following armed conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Part of the war has come back with them,” he said. “In these two conflicts, mental wounds have, according to some, outnumbered physical wounds.”
Jail programs are not geared toward the unique needs of veterans, Dunn said.
Councilmember Kathy Lambert co-sponsored the bill and encouraged the county to pursue federal funding for incarcerated veterans.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has funding for incarcerated veterans that King County could access if it expands services in the jail, said Clifton Curry, legislative analyst for the King County Council.
The ordinance directed the executive’s office to recommend programs to support vets in the jail and as they reenter the community.
The programs could include a veterans housing unit within the jail, training opportunities and counseling and supervision programs.
The ordinance also requires the executive to determine how many veterans are in jail. People self-report if they are veterans when they enter the jail system, and many are likely withholding the information, Curry said.
“Everyone recognizes that that’s probably underreported,” Curry said.
The report, due by Dec. 31, will include a timeline for how to implement the programs.